NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Sporting a black shirt and jeans and exuding the born-again zeal of a man back from the brink, Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's interim chief executive officer, strutted across a stage in New York Wednesday and proclaimed Apple beyond the "hierarchy of skepticism" that at times seemed to jeopardize the company's survival.
Speaking before an adulatory audience at the Macworld Exposition, Jobs limned a portrait of a newly revitalized company with hot new products such as the soon-to-be-unveiled iMAC PC, a formidable and feisty presence on the Internet and, most importantly, steadily growing profits.
Jobs said Apple expects to report a third consecutive profitable quarter when the company releases its financial results next week. In its fiscal first quarter, ended Dec. 31, 1997, the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker posted a profit of $47 million, compared with a loss of $120 million a year earlier.
In the second quarter, Apple cheered analysts again, posting a $55 million profit. The results marked a stunning about-face for the embattled PC-maker, which until this year had not earned a profit since its fiscal fourth quarter ended Sept. 30, 1996.
For over two years, the embattled personal computer maker posted more than $2 billion in losses, slashed thousands of jobs and purged its executive suites.
Jobs announced Apple would launch iMAC, a new all-purpose entry-level computer, on August 15. With a price tag of $1,299, the iMAC has drawn mixed reviews from Apple acolytes, some of whom contend it is little more than a cheap, regurgitated version of the prototype PCs that made Apple's name when they were first rolled out in 1984.
On Wednesday, however, Jobs came out punching, saying the company's comeback had taken the skeptics off guard -- and would continue to do so.
Survival is no longer an issue
"We convinced people fairly rapidly that survival, at least in the short term, was not an issue," Jobs said.
At another point, in a jab at the company's critics, Jobs said he had learned to take a new approach: "We heard that Apple was dying, that Apple can't survive. Every time we convince people we've accomplished something at one level, they come up with something new. We've convinced them that we've taken care of last month's question."
Jobs also said Apple is more visible to consumers than it has been in many years, riding a marketing wave fueled by its "Think Different" advertising campaign.
"For the first time in a long time, people saw Apple on television, outdoors, and in print," he said.
Jobs also hailed Apple's year-old partnership with Microsoft Corp., an alliance that has spawned agreements to integrate the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser in Apple's new iMAC and MAC OS 8.1 operating system.
These and other innovations, Jobs said, enhanced the vitality of the Macintosh platform in the past year.
"Although our partnership was first met with boos at MacWorld a year ago, it has blossomed and is delivering some really great products to our joint customers," he said.
In a separate statement, Apple and Microsoft also announced a new promotion that will allow anyone who purchases an iMAC computer in the United States to receive a $100 rebate when they license Microsoft Office 98 Macintosh Edition. The promotion begins Aug. 15 and will run through the end of 1998.
Apple also said it has made deep inroads into the electronic commerce market. "We went from nothing online to the gold standard in e-commerce," Jobs asserted, noting that the company's total Internet hits had jumped from 1 to 10 million in a year.
There are a few glitches in the shiny veneer, however. Apple acknowledged that it had overcome earlier supply problems with its PowerMac G3 Powerbook, asserting that supply should meet demand in the next few weeks. Apple has sold 750,000 G3 Powerbooks to date.
In March, Apple and Microsoft also announced plans to merge their Java programming technologies to create a single "virtual" machine for MAC OS.
Jobs's tenure at the helm of Apple began last July, when he was brought in following the ouster of his predecessor, Gil Amelio. Since the interim appointment, rumors have swirled about Jobs' future status, with company officials intimating at times that they would like to see him stay. Jobs has remained coy, refusing to say whether or not he is inclined to stay on permanently in his rescue-mission role.
Apple has been in the throes of re-creation since Jobs' arrival. In fiscal 1997, which ended last September, the company had total sales of $7.08 billion, a 28 percent dip from the year before. On Wednesday, Jobs said the company's market value had climbed from $1.8 billion when he took his post, to $4 billion.
"What this means is that people are seeing a stable business, which is good, and a business that is in control, which is also good," Jobs said.
Apple (AAPL) stock was up 15/16 at 31-7/16, on volume of 3 million shares, in mid-morning trade Wednesday.